THE EU EASTERN PARTNERSHIP – ALREADY 10 YEARS
THE EU EASTERN PARTNERSHIP – ALREADY 10 YEARS
On 14 May 2019, Ukraine and the European Union (EU) celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Eastern Partnership with a High-Level Conference in Brussels attended by all its members. Launched on 7 May 2009 as a joint policy initiative between the EU and its Member States, on the one part, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, on the other part, the Partnership progressed significantly with the adoption of Association Agreements (AA) between Eastern European and their EU partners, and with the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements entered into between the EU partners and Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia respectively.
Some of the recent achievements
The aims of the Eastern Partnership have remained unchanged since its creation and relate to building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. The members of the Eastern Partnership have detailed specific aims and priority areas of cooperation in due course during the last 10 years. A series of actions have been identified for their delivery in 2020 at the Eastern Partnership Summit of Riga in 2015.
As pointed out by the President of the EU Commission at the High-Level Conference, 125.000 loans have been provided to businesses in the Eastern Partnership. More than 50% of these loans were granted in local currency, which benefits clearly non-EU parties.
Globally, the Eastern Partnership countries are by now the EU’s 10th trading partner.
At the national level, in 2018, exports from Ukraine to the EU increased by 8% compared to 2017 and Ukrainian imports from the EU by 10%. 2018 thus became another year of record high exports from Ukraine to the EU, which remains Ukraine’s largest trading partner with 42% of total trade.
Recent achievements in the EU relations with Ukraine materialize specifically in the already mentioned Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area which became a reality in Ukraine already in September 2017. The four freedoms that characterize the EU model since its inception in 1956 target now also Ukraine’s citizens. To be more precise, the four freedoms relate to the free movement of persons, goods, capital and services within the territories of Ukraine. Free movement of persons materializes in the form of visa-free entry of Ukrainian citizens to the EU for short stays. Visa-free entry of Ukrainian citizens to the EU for short stays is probably the most tangible success of the Eastern Partnership from the national perspective and as such constitutes an extraordinary achievement on both sides.
Enormous efforts and specialized expertise are nonetheless still needed in other areas, like the legal approximation process in Ukraine. This process intends not only to modernize Ukrainian laws and regulations in line with EU, but also, by this same token, international standards, but to maintain a high level of convergence for the Ukrainian legal system as a whole. At present, up to 30 different public bodies of Ukraine are involved in this process. Training of officials constitutes also a need at present for the Ukrainian public administration and the EU provides support for this work program.
Accordingly, the legislative roadmap for the implementation of the AA was updated in September 2018 in Ukraine. Legal approximation puts clearly an emphasis on trade-related matters and on other topics contemplated in the AA. Other important outputs include also the Government Action Plan for AA Implementation and a new format for the annual AA Implementation Reports.
An outlook to the future
But not everything boils down to legal and institution reforms. While the latter reforms fall under the category of implementing reforms to strengthen the rule of law, the judiciary and the fight against corruption, other challenges identified at the High-Level Conference include, for instance, further protecting the environment and actively tackling climate change, and increasing societal resilience by countering hybrid threats and disinformation. On a different level, supplementary aims relate to strengthening the environment for civil society and a free and independent media, improving the lives of citizens affected by conflicts in the region and, last but not least, finding ways to further increase trade and business opportunities.
As a matter of fact, initiatives to support infrastructures in the partner countries will yield not only positive results for their relationship with the EU, but also at the regional level. Reference is made here precisely to programmed investments for the construction or rehabilitation of 4.800 km of roads and railways by 2030 in the framework of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).
One final remark
The Eastern Partnership initiative should however be clearly distinguished from EU Accession. Too many persons still believe that there is a link between the Eastern Partnership and EU Accession. This is not the case.
In fact, in the Eastern European Partnership each Eastern European member country remains free to choose the level of cooperation in its relations with the EU in the following areas:
• Economic development and market opportunities
• Strengthening institutions and good governance
• Connectivity, energy, efficiency, environment and climate change
• Mobility and people-to-people contact.
Thus, it should not be surprising to anyone that Ukraine is sitting in the pilot’s seat for defining the country’s future Eastern Partnership Agenda. The EU does not impose any reform agenda or values onto its six partners countries. Partner countries choose to align with EU standards autonomously, according their own governmental policies and objectives. Hence, it is solely up to the new Ukrainian government to take advantage now of the EU Eastern Partnership initiative.
About author: J.R. Iturriagagoitia, LLM (Georgetown University), Abogado (Madrid)